28 ago 08 Media and US elections analysis

By Daniel Politi, Slate Magazine

The papers lead with Barack Obama accepting the Democratic nomination for president last night in front of more than 84,000 people at a packed outdoor football stadium. When Obama walked onstage, the “cheering went on for several minutes; the stadium erupted with hundreds of camera flashes and shuddered from the concussion of thousands of stamping feet,” notes the Wall Street Journal. USA Today says the Democratic Convention ended “with a display of fireworks and pageantry worthy of an Olympic opening.”

Everyone makes a point of emphasizing that Obama’s address was much more critical of John McCain than his usual speeches. It “was less lofty than his earlier rhetorical forays, more specific on the policies he would pursue as president and more scathing toward McCain,” the Washington Post summarizes. The Los Angeles Times agrees and says it “was more sharply worded than his usual lyrical prose.” The New York Times notes that Obama “went so far as to attack the presumed strength of Mr. McCain’s campaign, national security.”

As expected, Obama focused much of his speech on the economy as he tied the problems currently faced by the country’s middle class to the “failed presidency of George W. Bush.” The Iraq war was once a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign strategy, but an analysis by the LAT reveals he spent only four minutes of his 44-minute speech on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan while he devoted 16 minutes to economic issues.

As for substance, the WSJ says that the Democratic nominee “presented some long-standing and fairly conventional Democratic economic proposals.” He called for a middle-class tax cut, urged the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses, and pledged he would “finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East” within 10 years. USAT points out that at times “the speech seemed like a State of the Union, detailing proposals to recruit teachers, lower health care premiums and revise bankruptcy laws.”

One theme that Obama came back to repeatedly was to tie McCain to Bush while he characterized his opponent as the personification of “the broken politics in Washington,” which has been a theme throughout his campaign. He also said that McCain simply doesn’t understand the everyday problems that plague average Americans. “It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care,” he said. “It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.”

Obama lashed out at McCain’s attempts to portray him as a celebrity who is obsessed with the sound of his own voice and unable to lead. The Democratic nominee spoke of his mother’s experience using food stamps, his grandmother’s difficult rise in the workplace, and his own work organizing unemployed steelworkers. “I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine,” Obama said. He also described these kinds of attacks as the same old Washington politics. “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from,” he said.

After more than a month of tepid responses to McCain’s attacks, Obama fought back and unveiled a “more combative” candidate, notes the LAT. The LAT summarizes the new Obama’s message: “Ordinary people are hurting economically, the Bush administration has failed to respond, and a McCain presidency would represent nothing but ‘more of the same.’ ” Ultimately, “the centerpiece of his acceptance speech was a sharp-edged, almost populist, economic message.”

The WP‘s Dan Balz says Obama’s criticism toward McCain and Bush, combined with his message of change was exactly what “many nervous Democrats were hoping for.” But despite all the policy prescriptions to cure the nation’s ills, Obama didn’t “set the clear priorities that some of his critics say his governing agenda has lacked,” writes Balz.

As has been the case throughout most of the convention, Obama never directly talked about the historic aspect of his nomination, even when he noted that he was delivering his address on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The NYT notes that yesterday Obama became only the third nominee of a major party to leave the site of the convention and deliver his acceptance speech at a stadium. When John F. Kennedy did it in 1960, there were plenty of empty seats, but yesterday the stadium was packed hours before Obama reached the podium. Both the NYT and WP front stories describing the scene at the stadium yesterday and note that many waited for hours to get inside. “The scene was one of the most unusual sights in the annals of American political conventions,” notes the NYT. The closing day of a convention suddenly looked more like an open-air concert rather than a place for party insiders and donors to mingle.

It was Obama’s big night, but that doesn’t mean John McCain didn’t try to sneak into the picture. In an ad released last night on cable and in battleground states, the presumptive Republican nominee congratulated his opponent and hinted at the historic significance of his candidacy. “How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day,” McCain said in the ad. “Tomorrow, we’ll be back at it. But tonight, senator, job well done.” The WSJ notes this was simply part of McCain’s effort to “seize the momentum” and turn the media’s attention away from the Democrats. The most significant part of the effort will be McCain’s announcement of a running mate this morning. As a side benefit, the timing of the announcement is also likely to take attention away from the fact that McCain turns 72 today.

Regardless of what the Republican nominee does though, the truth is that the media’s attention is likely to turn away from the Democrats, but it won’t be to McCain’s advantage. USAT fronts, and everyone covers, a look at how communities along the Gulf Coast were busy preparing for the possible arrival of Tropical Storm Gustav, which gained strength yesterday after killing more than 50 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republican. Forecasters say Gustav could strengthen to a Category 3 hurricane and is projected to hit somewhere between Texas and Florida early next week. Louisiana’s governor said there’s “a real possibility” the hurricane would hit his state, and, of course, everyone brings up parallels with Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast three years ago today.

Government officials are now rushing to put into action emergency plans that were drafted to help avoid a repeat of the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. As officials planned for a potential evacuation, and New Orleans residents tried to decide whether to take this potential threat seriously, many worried that a strong storm could expose weaknesses in the flood protection systems built after Katrina. The WSJ points out that although lots of work has been done to protect New Orleans, “for every dollar that has been invested so far, at least three more of the federal dollars approved to shield the city from massive storms remain unspent.”

All this talk of Hurricane Katrina and the reminders of the slow relief effort is bad news for McCain, who is set to be officially nominated as his party’s presidential candidate next week. The papers hear word that Republican officials are considering delaying the start of the convention. “Senior Republicans said images of political celebration in the Twin Cities while thousands of Americans flee a hurricane could be disastrous,” reports the Post. Still, it could also be a chance for McCain to distance himself from the president since, as the LAT points out, “There is perhaps no issue over which McCain has been more critical of the Bush administration than its handling of the 2005 storm.”

The NYT and WSJ front, and everyone mentions, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin saying in an interview that he thinks the Bush administration may have wanted to provoke a crisis in Georgia in order to help a candidate in the U.S. presidential election. Although he wasn’t named, few doubt the Russian leader meant McCain. Putin didn’t really present any evidence but went on to say he suspects Americans were present during the combat because a U.S. passport was found in the rubble of a building where Georgian forces were based during the recent conflict. The war of words was a clear sign that Moscow isn’t in a rush to mend its relationship with Washington. The WSJ also hears that the Bush administration is considering whether to suspend disarmament talks with Russia. Some think there’s a chance that all negotiations between Washington and Moscow will cease for the remaining months of the Bush presidency.

Maybe it’s just as well because no one really seems to be interested in being in Washington these days. “It’s apocalyptically empty,” notes the WP‘s Joel Achenbach. “We’re in an emptiness trifecta: It’s August, Congress is in recess, and there’s a convention going on out there, in Denver, reportedly.” There were around a dozen reporters at the White House morning briefing yesterday, and one said he finds it amazing there are 15,000 people with media credentials in Denver. “Here they are, covering the process of selecting the president,” a CBS News radio reporter said, “and nobody is covering the actual president!”

 

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